Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

McMurray Musing - Places of Note

There are places in this city that deserve special mention and recognition. One hears a lot of complaints about services and businesses in this community - poor staff, poor quality of work, or just generally poor atmosphere. I think it's time to shine the spotlight on some of the stellar services and businesses in our city, and to acknowledge those that do what they do very well. Today's spot is one of my very favourites, and has been since I first moved here - the Fort McMurray Public Library.

When I first arrived in the city the library was housed in the red government building downtown. While the location was convenient in some ways, like being close to the main public transit hub, it was atrocious for parking. It also felt rather small and cramped for all the items and activities it housed. The library is now located at MacDonald Island Park, and what an astonishing place it is (and with lots of parking, too!). Two floors provide ample space for all the patrons. The main floor houses the main circulation desk, the children's collection and seating area, and the public access computers. The second floor houses the adult collection, magazines, meeting rooms, and dozens of places to sit. What is especially lovely about this is that with children on the main floor the second floor becomes a much quieter place, and they even request you turn off cellphone ringers to keep the noise level down. For some who have spent time in other libraries recently you know they are often not the quiet places of old but rather like coffee shops that happen to house books. I rather like the quieter section of this new library as it allows a place to truly sit and read, think, or work (like blogging, for instance).

The library offers the usual services, of course. They lend books and magazines, and have a large selection of both. I have often commended them on their new acquisitions as they manage to almost always have whatever newly-published book I am desiring, no matter how obscure it seems. They have a large selection of audio books as well, which is wonderful for those who want or need to hear their books. They also lend out DVD's, which is terrific as these are expensive items to purchase and often not watched more than once or twice. The library does so much more than these usual services, though.

The public access computers at the library are free to use. This is a wonderful service for those who need access to email or other Internet services but don't have a computer of their own. It also means people without a computer can polish up and print those resumes or other documents they might need. The library also offers free Wi-Fi, a terrific service for those who do have their own computer but occasionally like to get out into the community while remaining connected (again, like some bloggers I know). The library runs regularly scheduled programs for children, like story times, and programs for young adults. It hosts book clubs for adults, and an ESL group. They have even begun lending out e-books for those who have ventured into the age of the digital book.

During the course of a year the library hosts dozens of special events - craft days during spring break, and special themed days with games, crafts, and other activities. In the children's area they appear to even have a Wii game system for public use, as well as toys, puzzles, and other ways to entertain a child on those miserable days when it's too cold to be outdoors but too confining to be at home.

What I think is best about the library, though, is the staff. They are unfailingly polite and helpful. They know I haunt the new book rack, and when they see me at that rack will often tell me they have new books at their desk that haven't gone on the shelf yet but that I am free to browse through. They answer my questions with good cheer, never comment on how many books I reserve (which is many - I am an avid reader and often have 3-4 books on the go at one time, meaning I need a fairly constant supply), and never yell at me when I show up to sheepishly pay my overdue fines (and once when I told them my fines accrued as I was called out of town due to a family emergency the fines simply disappeared). They seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs, and while that is a beautiful thing anywhere it is especially so in a library where you secretly hope the employees love books as much as you do.

There are dozens more things I could say about the library, but my hope is that you either already visit this wonderful place, or that this blog post will convince you to do so. I promise that it will be far more than you ever expected to find in a city of this size, and a visit to the library might even change your perception of the community. You might go in thinking this is a city that doesn't read or support literacy, or that it doesn't offer things of interest to those who are accustomed to big-city libraries. A quick visit to the library will show you the fallacy of those ideas, and you will very likely become a regular patron. If you see someone with a stack of new books at the self-checkout kiosk, or with an open laptop sitting in a comfy chair typing madly away, do give a wave - because it might well be me.  Hope to see you there, Fort Mac!

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